Lucy Amis has usefully drawn attention to the failure of parts of the media industry to live up to its role in advancing the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and indeed the recent instances of abuse of the right to privacy.
For governments, this poses difficult dilemmas. Is more regulation part of the answer? The UN Guiding Principles make it clear that States have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication.
The problem is that any government move to introduce more regulation to protect the individual from human rights abuses by the media risks exposing that government to accusations that it is seeking to muzzle the press and restrict freedom of expression.
Last year, a government in Latin America sought, no doubt with the best of intentions, to introduce a new law against racism and discrimination, including provision for fines, suspension of licences and removal of immunity for offending media and journalists. This caused an outcry from the press, a hunger strike, protest marches and criticism from the Inter-American Press Association.
The risk of government action being counter-productive is of course even greater when the government concerned has a poor human rights record.
In most industry sectors, companies are very reluctant to criticize the human rights record of their competitors. Recent events in the UK have shown that this is not the case in the media industry, where competitors played a key role in exposing the activities of parts of News International, contributing to the closure of the newspaper regarded as the leading offender. Clearly, governments must perform their key role of law enforcement. But this is one industry in which even the most ardent advocates of regulation might conclude that market forces are more likely to produce results than more regulation.
By Graham Minter